As I rode up several floors in a hotel elevator during a Memorial Day trip, the car stopped to let in two women. I am not strong at guessing ages, but they were probably in their late 30s or early 40s. They were animatedly discussing some man they had just seen, literally giggling about his eyes, biceps and, as one of the women described it, his “tushy.”
I tried to mentally force the elevator to speed up, but made eye contact with the tushy fan, who burst out laughing, expelling a cloud of something alcoholic into the suddenly much smaller car.
“I’m sorry,” she laughed, clearly anything but.
“Don’t be. Men talk about women that way sometimes,” I said, stating what I thought was a universal truism.
“Really?” she asked, as if she had just arrived from a planet that contained no men and she found the factoid confusing.
“Sure. I will probably describe you two to someone at some point,” I said, enjoying some private irony.
“Well,” she said, with as much deliberation as I imagine Abraham Lincoln employed while drafting the Gettysburg Address, “I guess we’re all ho’s.”
I did not have an answer for her, but the comment, “I guess we’re all ho’s,” banged around in my head that day, partially because of its vulgar directness, and partially because it’s tempting to believe it’s true. From Adam to John Profumo to Bill Clinton to Gen. David Petraeus, sex and its pursuit have reduced even some of the finest men and women to barely thinking animals.
Another reason the woman’s quote stayed with me comes courtesy of my friend Jeff McGinnis, Toledo Free Press Pop Culture Editor and a co-host on our WSPD show “Eye on Your Weekend,” who posted this message on Facebook on May 25: “Let’s spell this out. Make it plain. Okay?
“To hell with the idea that somehow I’m a failure or less of a person because I haven’t had sex.
“To hell with the idea that my relationships with female friends are somehow a failure because I haven’t slept with any of them.
“To hell with the idea that their worth to me is defined solely by whether or not they want to have sex with me.
“To hell with the idea that, because I value them as people — people who I love, admire and respect, and who I am grateful to, simply for the fact that they want me to be a part of their life — I am less than those who see them as objects to be conquered.
“To hell with the idea of ‘the friend zone.’ Because being a friend is the most wonderful thing in the world to me.
I love the people in my life. That is all I ever need. And to hell with anyone or anything who tries to tell me that’s not enough.”
Well, to hell with me, then, because I am going to try to tell McGinnis why that’s not enough.
McGinnis, who is in his mid-30s, has been alternately vaunted and ridiculed for the public acknowledgment of his virginity during his Tuesday morning appearances on KISS FM. And while his Facebook post is noble and certainly grounded in a clear morality that is largely inarguable, it is also critically flawed. On “Eye on Your Weekend,” our panel has one guiding principle: Do not discuss a work of art you haven’t experienced. If you haven’t seen the new “Star Trek” movie, watched the latest episodes of “Arrested Development” or listened to the new Daft Punk CD, don’t jump into the conversation. McGinnis violates that rule when he writes about the role of sex in relationships, but I am about to violate that rule by discussing middle-age virginity, so we’ll each accept our penalty and soldier on.
There is no argument with McGinnis’ sentiment that those who deem a lack of sexual involvement a failure miss the point of friendship. He is also correct that objectification is a base and crude preoccupation, no matter who is the objectify-er and who is the objectify-ee, though I am fascinated by the mystery of how Person X can be in an unbreakable, loving commitment and still project sexual fantasy on any number of women I know. I mean, that Person X knows.
Because McGinnis has self-admittedly never experienced the dimensions of a sexual relationship, he cannot understand the implications and impact sex has on a committed relationship.
This is not a discussion of one-night stands or recreational sex indulged in for fun without any level of commitment beyond what’s for breakfast. It is about the fact that sexual intimacy has a magnifying effect on love and friendship that exponentially strengthens both beyond the mechanics of the act itself.
I can promise McGinnis, who is one of the sharpest intellects and most talented writers I have encountered in my 25-year professional career, that when he eventually experiences the power of an intimate, sexual relationship with a woman who is also his best friend, he will journey through a re-evaluation of the role sex plays and will come to a greater understanding of why so many people place such great emphasis on sex, even if they do not understand why or even if their motives are less than noble.
There is also the “chocolate chip cookie factor.” I can describe the ingredients, textures and pleasures of eating a chocolate chip cookie to someone who has never tasted one, but I cannot fully convey the experience through mere description. If something as simple as a cookie defies such conveyance, how can one ever accurately describe something as complex as sex to someone who has yet to experience it? Imagine trying to describe having two cookies at once!
No, we are not all ho’s, despite the monkeyshines of my elevator companions. But we were not all meant to be celibate monks, either. Somewhere between monkeys and monks lies the truth, and I look forward to reading McGinnis’ thoughts on women, love and sex once he has had a few years to experience and explore them for himself.
When two people love each other, sexual communion opens a universe of depth and intimacy. Once that dimension is experienced, it redefines and creates a molecular-level bond. With the joy and intensity that forges, it is a natural extension for Person X to speculate on how sex could enhance the bonds of friendship established with several of the most important women in my life. I mean, Person X’s life.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.